It took just one quarter and one more play in Ohio State’s 10th game of the season for Marvin Harrison Jr. to firmly establish himself as a Heisman Trophy contender.
As only four wide receivers have ever won the award, Harrison has been viewed as more of a long shot than a realistic Heisman candidate for most of the season, even as he’s been widely considered the best player in college football. But in a year where no quarterback has clearly separated himself from the pack and become the frontrunner to win the Heisman, it’s becoming more plausible that Harrison might not just earn an invitation to New York but potentially lift the trophy himself.
A three-touchdown game will always bolster a Heisman campaign, and it took Harrison only three possessions to make that happen on Saturday against Michigan State. He showed his ability to make big plays in different ways within those three touchdowns, scoring the first rushing touchdown of his Ohio State career on the Buckeyes’ opening drive before catching touchdown passes on each of their next two possessions.
Three drives.— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) November 12, 2023
Three Marvin Harrison Jr. touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/F3KXWQPcVq
By the end of the first half, Harrison would catch six passes for 92 yards; in the process, Harrison became the first player in Ohio State history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in two different seasons. Even though he played just one possession in the second half, Harrison finished the night with 149 receiving yards – 168 yards from scrimmage with his 19-yard rushing touchdown – as he gained 57 yards on a deep-ball catch on Ohio State’s first offensive play of the final 30 minutes.
It was the seventh time in 10 games this season that Harrison has topped 100 receiving yards – tying him with David Boston for the most career 100-yard receiving games in Ohio State history (14) – and the fourth time this season that Harrison scored multiple touchdowns in a game, furthering his standing as the most consistent star on college football’s top-ranked team.
As a result, Harrison now has the third-best odds to win this year’s Heisman behind only Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. As of late Saturday night, Nix was considered the favorite to win the award on both FanDuel and DraftKings, with Harrison holding 4/1 odds on DraftKings and 5/1 odds on FanDuel.
That continues a steady rise up the odds board for Harrison, whose Heisman odds were as long as 60/1 on FanDuel just three weeks ago and remained longer than 10/1 before Saturday’s game.
Even with his candidacy becoming more real, Harrison wasn’t interested in talking about the Heisman after Saturday night’s 38-3 win. While he said he is “very thankful and blessed to be in the conversation,” he’s choosing to keep his focus on the team’s goals of beating Michigan in two weeks and winning a Big Ten championship one week later.
“Honestly, that wasn’t in my head at all,” Harrison said when asked if he’s thought about winning the Heisman. “I just want us to beat the 'Team Up North' and go to the Big Ten championship. I’ve kind of been saying that all year. Those are the two goals I've had before the season even started.”
Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord and coach Ryan Day, however, were both happy to make the case that Harrison should become the fifth wide receiver ever to win the Heisman.
“If it’s truly the award that goes to the best player, he has to be right there in contention,” McCord said.
Day said there wasn’t any concerted effort to try to pad Harrison’s statistics on Saturday, as the Buckeyes simply called the plays that they thought would give them the best chance to win, which often means sending the ball Harrison’s way. But Day hopes Heisman voters will look beyond just the numbers when considering the greatness of Ohio State’s star receiver.
“I know that that's going to be part of the conversation, but the award is for the most outstanding player, not just the player with the most stats,” Day said.
“If it’s truly the award that goes to the best player, he has to be right there in contention.”– Kyle McCord on Marvin Harrison Jr.’s Heisman candidacy
Historically, winning the Heisman as a receiver has required either absurd numbers on offense or a combination of big numbers as both a receiver and a returner. Harrison’s numbers – 59 catches for 1,063 yards and 13 total touchdowns (12 receiving, one rushing) through 10 games – aren’t as stratospheric as DeVonta Smith, the last receiver to win the Heisman, who caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2020. Harrison doesn’t return kickoffs and punts like Tim Brown, Desmond Howard and Johnny Rodgers all did as Heisman winners.
But one only needs to watch Harrison to recognize how special a player he is. Few receivers in college football have ever made defense's game plan around them quite like Harrison does, and he still puts up big numbers each week despite double coverage and extra attention.
Whether Ohio State achieves its goals of beating Michigan and winning the Big Ten championship, and how big of a role Harrison plays in helping the Buckeyes achieve the goals, will go a long way toward determining whether Harrison can actually win the Heisman. He can ask his former quarterback C.J. Stroud about that, as Stroud was a major candidate to win the Heisman in each of the last two seasons but ended up finishing fourth in 2021 and third in 2022 after the Buckeyes lost to Michigan and failed to make the Big Ten Championship Game.
But merely the fact that Harrison has given himself a realistic shot at winning the Heisman speaks to how spectacular he has been as Ohio State’s No. 1 receiver. It’s rare for a wide receiver to even be a Heisman finalist – Smith is the only one in the last six years – but it would be a surprise if Harrison wasn’t at least a finalist now.
If he can continue his spectacular play for three more weeks and lead the Buckeyes to a win in The Game, a conference championship and a College Football Playoff berth in the process, Harrison will have a strong case that he should join the exclusive fraternity of Heisman-winning wideouts.